Thursday, December 17, 2015


There are a lot of things I enjoy about my temporary forced retirement from teaching. Staying up late reading a good book on a school night. Running errands mid-morning on a weekday when nothing is crowded. Scheduling appointments at my leisure instead of only after school dismisses for the day.

But it's weeks like this when I really miss teaching. The excitement of my students was always contagious as we counted down the days until Christmas holidays. Exchanging goodies with fellow teachers. Seeing holiday themed decor on bulletin boards in the hallways. Looking forward to early dismissal on Friday, grateful I wouldn't have to set the alarm clock for the next two weeks. Knowing I had tons of time to get stacks of papers graded by the deadline for second nine weeks report cards in January.

Hang in there, teacher friends - you've almost made it to a well deserved rest!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Room to Roam

It was a sign. Ollie's dog walker recently moved and told me Tuesday that she's resigning. Although they're hiring a replacement for his group, it was the perfect opportunity for us to discontinue the service and try a local doggy daycare program. It's award winning, so we hope Ollie digs it when we go for a visit in January.

The thing I really like about doggy daycare is that the beast gets to be off leash for about two hours, running and romping across a couple acres with his canine buds. With his dog walker, he had to stay on a leash the entire time. Otherwise, he'd take off and never be seen again. It's a little pricier than the dog walking service, but I really think he'll enjoy the socialisation. 

I love the company's video. Room to roam, kiddie pools in summer, a place to warm up in winter. And the best part - pick up and drop off service from our house. You give them a key so they whisk him away between 9:30-10:30 and return him from 12:30-1:30. I'm free to run errands, attend meetings, etc. and don't have to worry about sticking around for the doggy van. Sounds like a win-win to me!

The Old College Scramble

Three years ago, my husband and I took the then high school senior on a whirlwind tour of six college campuses as we made our way from England to Texas for Christmas break. Out-of-state and in-state, we covered many a mile. 

Late in the spring, she finally decided to attend the University of South Carolina in Columbia. They offered her a lovely academic scholarship that offset what we'd have to pay in out-of-state tuition. She had a great time at USC - joined a sorority, met some wonderful friends and made the dean's list all three semesters she was there.

Thankfully, we were able to lure her home to a more convenient commuting side of the SEC January 2015 when she transferred to Texas A&M in College Station. Hello, cheaper tuition! I was looking through old photos and stumbled across pics I snapped of the husband and senior on every campus we visited. Here they are in front of the student centre.

We'll be making the college rounds in a couple years with the younger daughter. Maybe she'll follow in her sister's footsteps - the staying in Texas part, not the heading 1200 miles from home to attend university bit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Willpower, where art thou?

Oh sure, life is all about choices. Instead of drinking wine, I'll order a diet soda or unsweet iced tea. I could gobble up a big plate of fried shrimp with a side of hush puppies, but instead I'll opt for the grilled option. Although lounging on the sofa is mighty tempting, I'll zip up to the top floor and work out on the elliptical machine. Of course, I only follow these rules some of the time. Otherwise I'd be a veteran of the Victoria's Secret catwalk if I had that kinda willpower 24/7.  Sometimes I eat dessert first. Or just dessert, like a frozen cheesecake straight out of the cardboard box. But seriously, those things are kid portion, right?

I've really been looking forward to our trip back to the US for Christmas vacation, sinking my teeth into some good ol' southern cooking and Tex-Mex. I'm talking about green beans seasoned with bacon drippings and a touch of sugar. Buttery biscuits smothered in country gravy. Guacamole made fresh at our table with an unlimited basket of hot, paper thin tortilla chips and a side of queso. 

Realising this anticipated zillion calorie count means I need to walk rather than fly the roundtrip UK to Texas route to stave off the Christmas can't zip your pants by New Years day glut, I figure I'll need to make some decisions in advance so I don't fall upon my favourite goodies like a starved animal. 

I found this chart and think it's really interesting to see a side-by-side size comparison of various pies. Good thing pecan has never been my favourite since it's like pouring a 5 lb bag of granulated sugar down my gullet. And injecting fat cells straight into my thighs. The trick is keeping the pumpkin to just one regular slice. Although I wish it weren't true, it seems calories do count when they're consumed standing over the kitchen island with a fork in hand eating one bite at a time straight from the pie plate.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Hopelessly Devoted

Yesterday I took Ollie on a walk along his usual route through the neighbourhood. He pees on pretty much the same trees and poops in a couple usual places. Sure enough, he stopped at around the one quarter mark to leave a fresh deposit on the grass.

I pulled the lavender scented poop bag from the pocket of my jacket and scooped up the doggie turds. I'm not sure how it happened, but my right index finger ended up getting fresh poo on it. It was a light brown, almost stone ground mustard coloured yellow. All up underneath my fingernail. O.M.Gosh! There I was staring at my dog poo-ed finger, big eyed with horror. 

It was all I could do to not start gagging since I've always been super sensitive to smell. Because it had been damp all day, I bent over and rubbed my doggy poop finger on the grass repeatedly until I was seeing dirt, glancing furtively around to make sure no one witnessed my little mini breakdown. I was on the verge (Brit speak for grass adjacent to the road) standing before a tall row of hedges rather than someone's front lawn, so I didn't feel one whit of remorse about mangling a swath of grass to save my sanity.

As I stood up, I looked at Ollie's innocent little liquid brown eyes and knew I had to finish out the walk even though it meant getting a few odd stares for walking with my right index finger extended waaaaay out as if that arm had no elbow joint. Ollie adores his strolls down the tree-lined streets and I knew he would be disappointed if we returned home so quickly. Maybe I need to add a travel pack of baby wipes to my pocket for just such emergencies because I don't want a repeat of this anytime soon. Oh the things we do for our beloved pets.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Favourite Things

Tortilla chips, salsa and unlimited iced tea,
Bread and butter you enjoy before your meal for free,
Manners like please, ma'am and thank you,
Christmas in the US is the best thing we'll do.

Take it away, Julie. I love this song. By the way, Julie Andrews was born in the Surrey town of Walton-on-Thames where we live. 

Six more sleeps until we're back on American soil for the holidays. Five roundtrip journeys to the husband's office in east London. Four days of semester exams for the 9th grader. Three big suitcases to haul out from beneath the stairs to pack for our trip. Two people to tip for their services to our family with house cleaning and dog walking before we hop on the big bird. One fabulous Christmas vacation we're anticipating with the family. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Where exactly is the collarbone?

Last night we attended the first of two Christmas parties. It was a small gathering of just ten people in a locally owned Italian restaurant run by folks from the boot of Europe. It was fun - lots of good food and great company. The husband and I, pictured below, look like the rest of the European population in our dark clothing. Not a scrap of festive red or green amidst the navy and black to liven up our outfits.

Honestly, I didn't have time to agonise over my wardrobe because I was in a bit of a tizzy about my hair. I always wait as long as possible in-between dye jobs on my prodigious white hairs, until I just can't stand to see them blinding me with their light every time I glance in the bathroom mirror. I also asked that an inch or so be taken off the length of my hair. It was resting on my collarbone and then flipping up. I told Sophie the stylist that I wanted the length shortened so it would just graze my collarbone. As you can see in the pic above, my British stylist got a bit too scissor happy and lopped off more than I asked. Alas, it is hair and will grow, albeit at a slow middle-aged pace. And so I'll try not to dwell on the fact that my day old haircut will be about the right length in March.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Momma's Boy

Our four-year-old Cairn Terrier Ollie loves everybody in the family. But over the years, I've spent the most time with him due to our expat gigs when I wasn't teaching. Ollie enjoys nothing more than a walk. He stops to sniff every other blade of grass and continues to hike his leg long after he could have any urine left in his bladder. 

Because he so loves walking and the English weather is often crap, plus I need someone familiar with his little quirks to board him when we travel, I have a dog walker. Her name is Chloe and she looks to be in her early 20s. She's very sweet and seems to enjoy Ollie since he has no real bad habit other than his inclination to head for the hills if he's ever off leash.

When Chloe first started picking up Ollie in her doggie van, he was all over her jumping and barking and rarin' to go. That is what he has always done with me when I ask him if he wants to go for a walk. He prances and barks and jumps as if to say hurry up old woman and get this leash on me - there are grass blades and utility poles needing a good whiff.

But lately, he just isn't excited anymore about walking with Chloe. I asked her if something had happened on one of the walks or if maybe there is a new dog in the mix. According to her, nothing has changed and no traumatic incidents to report. When she returns him from his walks, he's always happy and acts like Chloe is his new best friend. But then the next time she shows up, I have to corral Ollie to get him leashed and out the door.

It makes no sense. I don't like the fact that he's so hesitant to go on his walks with her, but then he always returns happy. I'm wondering if I should try a new dog walking service in the new year. This is one of those times when you wish your furry family member could talk and explain what's going on in his little terrier head. Maybe he's like me and just ready to hibernate until the days start to lengthen once again. Or he's got some seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Maybe we should both start taking Prozac, ha-ha.

This morning I walked him through the neighbourhood on his usual route, a two poop bag day. It never fails that he takes care of business at least once, early on in the walk, so I have to finish the rest of our jaunt toting a doggie poop bag in the other hand. There's no upside to carrying little doggie tootsie roll turds, but at least I buy the lavender scented bags. Now Ollie's flopped down next to me on the sunroom sofa ready for his midmorning nap. What a life.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Yelling Loudly and Proudly

Yesterday the 9th grader cheered at her first game of the season. Unlike cheerleading in Texas, that begins in August with football season, the cheer season at her English based American/international school runs through basketball season. Then it culminates with a cheer competition in early March. 

So last night she donned her uniform and hit the gym sidelines to root for the girl's varsity basketball team. Texas or England, there's no escaping the big ass cheerleader hair bows. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Cupcake Wednesday

Since school started, I've volunteered to make cupcakes to be sold in the concession stand three times now. This go-round it's chocolate cupcakes with white icing, topped with chocolate penguins. All of the other seasonal chocolates at our local grocery store were more festive, but also wrapped in foil. That would have been a mess, plopping a wrapped chocolate into vanilla icing. Plus the foil ones were solid coloured while the penguins have definition, so it's a win-win as far as I'm concerned.

Since I was already baking cupcakes for concessions, I just doubled the recipe to make cupcakes for the cheerleaders, too. This afternoon is the debut of the cheerleaders at their first home basketball game to support the girl's team. Our 9th grader enjoys the cheers - she can get loud - and is doing her part in stunting as a base. At this point, she hasn't let anybody fall or had anybody fall on her. All for no injuries (and cupcakes), stand up and holler!

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sweet 15

I love hosting parties for 15 yr olds - so much easier than when the girls were little. I made a reservation online for the birthday girl and her posse at a local Italian place a five minute walk from the house. I took the teen to buy a cart full of snacks at the grocery store. I bought an inexpensive fire pit and the ingredients for s'mores. That's about all it took for a happy 15th birthday sleepover celebration. 

Thanks to a winter storm hitting the British Isles, we had some serious wind gusts last night. Every time sparks flew at the girls gathered around the fire with their marshmallows on stick, they shrieked and screamed. So I spent the whole s'mores portion of the party running out the back door to make sure no one needed to stop, drop and roll. Worrywart that I am, I filled up the tea kettle with water... just in case.

Now we're down to just one guest still at the house. She's a boarder at the school, so we hate to rush her back to the dorms at campus. Both of the girls are in the kitchen putting together a gingerbread house from a kit I found at the local Costco. They've got the original Home Alone movie playing on the TV. It's all very sweet and festive.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Christmas Countdown

Now that we've hit the third day of December, I'm ready for Christmas vacation. Oh sure, we still have to get through the daughter's 15th birthday party sleepover this weekend, followed by two separate work parties with the husband, and the joy of semester exams for the 9th grader.

But seriously, y'all, I'm just counting down the days until I can get back on American soil for the holiday with family. Driving on the "right" side of the road, rolling up to a drive-in window for overpriced coffee, hitting Target for a good deal and eating some of my favourite meals. It's gonna be perfect.

This year it's a Smoky Mountain Christmas for us, thanks to my crazy planning a year in advance skills. Last January I put down a substantial deposit on an amazing log lodge - can't say cabin because that doesn't aptly describe the size of it - that has a tremendous view of Gatlinburg from the back porch deck that spans the length of the house, with a built in fireplace for s'mores making. That's where we'll be kicking back with the in-laws and outlaws to celebrate Christmas for six nights. It even has its own totem pole out front.

Winging our way from Heathrow to Charlotte, we'll spend the night in Asheville so we can tour one of America's castles on our drive to Tennessee. I think Biltmore will look just beautiful dressed up for Christmas.

Our Griswold family holiday will be filled with shows, shopping, hiking, snow tubing and eating southern cooking on a daily basis. It's just gonna be so much fun, y'all - the happiest of holidays. Sixteen days until we shake the UK, leaving our home and furry family member in the capable hands of our house/dog sitter to enjoy some American holiday traditions. You know, the important stuff like pumpkin and pecan pie. And maybe a cheeseball.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

La Luna de London

It's not exactly London, but the 'burbs are close as the crow flies. No doubt I wouldn't have seen the moon so clearly from my back garden while taking the Ollie beast out for his evening potty break if we lived amongst the many city lights. It was glowing oh so prettily in the sky, so I snapped a pic of it. I would have sworn it had an orb of luminescence around it, but my middle-aged eyes see orbs around street lights, headlights, traffic lights, porch lights... you get the drift. I can report the moon was strong enough to cast shadows into the master bedroom that evening, so maybe my old eyes weren't deceiving me.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Cologne Christmas Markets 2015

Hard to believe, but this was our first family trip since we moved back to the UK in the summer. The 9th grader had a school holiday the day after Thanksgiving, so we decided to travel to Cologne for a long weekend to kick off the Christmas season.

Cologne is on most lists for best German Christmas markets. But honestly, my big motivation for traveling to Cologne was the cathedral. It didn't disappoint, particularly the facade. The interior was about what I expected, but the exterior was loaded with all sorts of detail. 

Unbeknownst to me, each of the six separate Christmas markets in Cologne has its own theme. We visited five of the six and returned with a souvenir mug from four of them. The 5th one we didn't bother to get a mug because the market was small and the cup was unattractive.

This trip wasn't about fine dining, but rather carb-filled street food. We munched on sausages, pretzels, fried potato pancakes, strudel and frites. I plan on fasting  a couple days this week to detox my sugary body.

Even our hotel was tricked out in Christmas decorations. It was located right across the street from the cathedral, so it was the perfect location for sightseeing in the old town.

While we were taking a private tour with local guide Marcus, we stumbled upon a wedding party right outside of city hall, which was also decked in holiday decorations.

 The markets as night were so festive. But they were also super crowded and you had to shuffle along through clouds of cigarette smoke. All in all we had a great time and are already starting to contemplate which German Christmas market we'll visit next year.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Here Comes Santa Claus

The halls have been decked, as Santa-ed as it's gonna get around here since I only shipped five plastic bins of items from my extensive collection. Of course, I had to add a few things like a couple Santa prints and another few items to round out the decor. No doubt I'll have to buy several plastic bins when everything goes back into storage after the holiday. There will be no Christmas tree this year, but that doesn't bother me since it's always the most time consuming part of my holiday set up. However, I did spring for a fresh wreath and seasonal entry mat to pretty up the front porch. 

Here's Santa in the kitchen.

Santa catching some rays in the sunroom.

Santa ready to sup in the informal dining area.

Santa saying hello in the entryway.

Santa's many options for a beverage in the formal living/dining room.

Santa in wood and metal on the upstairs landing.

HOCO 2015

Back in Texas, we called it homecoming. Over here, they call it spirit week. The 9th grader was fine with dressing tacky, in her pyjamas or in the class colour so long as she got out of wearing her school uniform for the entire week. She said they had a pep rally on Wednesday during advisories, which I would have loved to see. Since this is our second expat stint and I knew this week would be in the line up, I mentioned it might be fun to purchase/ship over the items to make homecoming mums. Small ones rather than the ridiculous, over-the-top sort found at all Texas high schools. It's a southern thing, but I thought the daughter might enjoy sharing our local custom with her friends. I guessed wrong on that, per the sigh and eye roll I received upon making the suggestion.

Here she is in front of the fireplace, posing for a pic before she and her best friend were dropped off at the school dance. They went stag, but that's no surprise. At her American-International private school, there are only 100 kids in 9th grade. About 50% of them are American, so that means there are about 25 American boys in her class. And not one of them worked up the nerve to invite the daughter or her best friend. Of course, I much prefer that over being all snugged up with some hormonal high school Casanova.